Some photographers prefer to shoot with zoom lenses, and some prefer to shoot with fixed-focal-length prime lenses. Granted, a quality zoom lens can give you tons of versatility without having to carry multiple elements in your bag. However, primes tend to have better optics for sharper details, wider apertures for better low-light performance and a shallow depth of field, and something else that’s a bit harder to describe.
There’s an element of pride and joy that comes with shooting a prime lens. By limiting oneself to specific focal lengths, a photographer begins to see the world through that particular angle, which can, in turn, lead to a more trained creative eye and yes, better images.
Now that Sony has done its part in bringing on the mirrorless camera revolution, they’ve built up a hefty library of lenses to choose from, some affordable and some not so much. Read on and you’ll find five of the best budget-friendly prime lens options for APS-C cameras and five for Full Frame in Sony’s E-mount lineup.
Sony E 16mm f/2.8, Silver
APS-C lenses have a few benefits. Not only are they more affordable than their full frame counterparts, they often have the added advantage of being much, much smaller. This 16mm f/2.8 may not give you an insanely wide view due to the smaller sensor size, but it does provide a 24mm equivalent, making it great for landscapes or street photography. It’s also absolutely tiny, barely peeking past the camera body any further than a Sony E-mount lens cap.
Sony E 20mm f/2.8
Another ultra-light pancake-size lens on our list, the 20mm comes in a sleek black instead of the flashy silver of the 16mm. Admittedly very close to the previously-listed choice, the 4mm difference between the 20mm and the 16mm are just different enough to make a difference. Where the silver option is a good choice for architecture, this may be your cup of tea for blogging or street photography that’s just a few much-needed steps back from your subject.
Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro
The compact systems that house cropped-sensor chips sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to unique lens designs. Thankfully, companies like 7Artisans are pushing the way forward on a lot of third-party options. Enter the 30mm f/3.5 Macro. This silver fox is light, compact, silent and distortion-free, allowing you to get up-close and personal with small subjects like jewelry or insects. If you’re looking to enter the world of macro photography, here’s an affordable foot in the door.
Sony E 35mm f/1.8 OSS
The 35mm focal length on an APS-C sensor actually shows a 50mm equivalent field of view on full frame bodies. You could say this is the equivalent to a Nifty Fifty lens for the a6000 series, but most entry-level Nifties don’t come with optical stabilization to eliminate motion blur from shaky hands. The wide aperture gives this lens a boost in low-light and smooth out-of-focus areas, making this an excellent choice for a ‘set it and forget it’ lens on the front of your camera that performs just as well for atmospheric portraits as it does for low-key concert photography.
Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS
Packing in the same Optical Stabilization feature as the 35mm above, this short telephoto brings you closer to your subject for excellent artistic portraits. A speedy internal focus mechanism allows you to find your mark quietly, without rotating the front element of the lens. Such thoughtful design in a supremely affordable lens means you can shoot anything from close-ups to weddings without breaking the bank.
Sony FE 24mm f/2.8 G
The newest lens on this list, and potentially the most expensive, this wide-angle is one of three metal-bodied prime lenses released by Sony in 2021. The 24mm, 40mm f/2.5 & 50mm f/2.5 all seem to be at least somewhat inspired by Sigma’s I-series primes with their solid and compact construction, manual aperture rings, and above-average image quality. This trio gives you the option to take advantage of all the automatic features available on Sony’s latest E-mount cameras, while also respecting the vibe that a fully-manual shooting style can provide.
Sony FE 28mm f/2
This small lens is simple and unassuming, with a wider angle that helps you fit more into the frame without entering distortion territory. With 9 rounded aperture blades, this lens opens up to a surprising f/2 to give you smooth bokeh and impressive low-light performance. With optional conversion lenses to go even wider or achieve a fisheye lookthis lens is surprisingly versatile for the price.
Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
The early efforts of Sony’s venture into full frame lenses saw the company collaborating with longtime German lens manufacturer Zeiss. These compact lenses all came with impeccable build quality, excellent optics, the famous T* coating, and smooth integration with Sony’s camera bodies. This 35mm makes a great everyday lens that’s quick, quiet, and incredibly compact. It may never leave the front of your camera.
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8
Sony’s version of a full-frame Nifty Fifty was much anticipated and finally released in 2016. We’ve spoken at length in the past about how every kit lens would be better as a large-aperture 50mm instead of a zoom, and this lens is no exception. It’s lightweight, with enough versatility to provide atmospheric medium shots or bokeh-filled portraits. If you’re thinking of switching up your game from zoom lenses to primes, this should be your first stop.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8
With dust- and weather-sealing, this portrait lens is fast and crisp. Considered by many Sony shooters to be an unofficial G-series lens, this short telephoto was designed with the intent to be used. With quiet focusing, extra-sharp image rendering, a customizable side button, and excellent metal construction, this is a better choice for many than Sony’s more-expensive 85mm f/1.4 G Master.
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